Sunday, March 18, 2007

Photo: Ann Hermes, Columbia Missourian, March 18, 2007

Maya smiled and the world was calmed. That's how it felt last night, even in the back student section (thank you lovely student friend for the invite) when we watched her, in person, smile out over her latest enthralled audience. I'm sure the smile went over into the Gaza settlements and into the outposts in Nepal where children march with guns.

Okay, most likely, it didn't. People died today because of violence despite Maya's smile and grandmotherly advice and benevolent hope for humanity. Yet wouldn't one who died today wish for someone who cared, who spoke about caring, who used her time to be expressively hopefully about a better world, who marched her words outwards to spread the care? I would want that in my shocked and final suffering at the hands of hatred.

Maya was funny. She said that she was trying, trying to be a Christian now, but it's so hard. Sometimes, someone will come up, shake her hand, and announce that they're a Christian. To which she likes to respond incredulously, "Already?"

She received many laughs, many claps. I sat there moist-eyed, because I had started to feel like the world was sinking into the mire of hopeless conflict and subjugation. And, perhaps we are. But, if we ask for more from ourselves and each other, as Maya spoke about, a "rainbow in the clouds" can appear: promising hope for even us, for even Israel and Palestine, for even the disenfranchised in New Orleans, for even Iraq, for even around our own homes.

I'm quite glad that I was introduced to Maya Angelou only 12 years ago, despite the gaps in my biased education. She truly is an amazing torchbearer of human dignity. Below is a poem written by her on the subject, written and delivered for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations:

A Brave and Startling Truth By Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn and scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

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